Birthday Road Trip #2: Fairy Tales and Whiskey Trails
Looking from the window seat on my flight to Inverness, the peaks of the Highlands were still caked in snow even though daffodils were in bloom. I was quite excited to be visiting the heart of Scotland as I assumed it would have the same cobbled streets, gothic architecture and northern romance of Edinburgh. Inverness turned out to be more Essex than epic. (If you don’t understand the reference then Google ‘TOWIE’).
Looking past the disappointment of Inverness’ facade, one discovery I made is that Inverness is a burgeoning artist’s capital with many events, conventions and magazines dedicated to the promotion of culture and mixed-media in the Highlands. After checking into our Airbnb, it became pretty apparent that we were to spend most of our time at Velocity – one of those bike shop/ coffee shop/ vegan cafe/ events space places. Not even Inverness can escape the tyranny of gentrification. It’s a good thing they actually make some damn fine hot beverages.
Inverness Castle was rebuilt in 1835 and begrudgingly keeps watch over the River Ness for invaders. For as attractive as this sandstone building may be, it is not open to the public, so that was another tourist activity killed on the spot.
The next day my companion and I hot-tailed it out of Inverness in a rental car and made our way towards the Isle of Skye. One of the great sights along this route is Eilean Donan Castle. This fortified beauty stood in ruins for 200 years before it was lovingly rebuilt in 1932. What personally drew me to this castle is that even though it looks imposing and cold from the outside, indoors lies a warm, traditional Scottish home.
Driving to Skye is an unforgettable experience as the whole landscape seems to be made up of the jagged fingernails trying to escape from the cold earth. WARNING: before heading to Skye, make sure you have all your destinations and routes saved offline. There is next to no phone signal across the whole island. I had to learn the hard way.
After our first night, we decided to pay a visit to the Old Man of Storr. You can find him huddled at the top of the Trotternish ridge on one of the most popular walking routes on the island. Even on a wet and hailing weekend, I never expected this place to be packed with both ramblers and locals. It’s a fascinating geological anomaly which looks across a spectacular landscape.
If you know anything about Skye you’d know that the clan chiefs have had a long and intertwined relationship with Fairies: from waging wars to marriages, the hidden people have been involved in it all. The owner of the Single Track Cafe (a fantastic espresso and art café perfectly situated in the middle of nowhere) encouraged us to go seek out the fairies. Try the fairy pools and fairy glen! Ye might spot the winged folk, they like to come out in wet weather. The café owner finished pouring my chai and laughed herself back to the till. Are these locals for real?
At the Fairy Pools, even in the height of summer the water is glacial.But there will always be some brave sadist who will strip down and go for a dip. I enjoyed this walk because you could take it in your own stride and it makes a good playground for adults and children alike.
But alas! Still no magical creatures. I walked an extra hour to get to the mouth of the crack in the picture above. Take it from me, there’s nothing to see! Save your legs and admire it from afar. There is just a shallow, damp cave waiting to snare curious ramblers. It was at this point that the weather took a turn for the worse. Rain in Skye comes down likes God’s wrath, he is determined to drown its inhabitants. The island is beautifully cursed. I decided to find refuge back in the rental car.
As I had failed to spot any winged creatures, I thought the best place to catch them would be their home of the Fairy Glen. All the directions I found were either vague or wildly inaccurate. It took an hour to find and on arrival I doubted I was in the right place. The Fairy Glen must have been part of a wider conspiracy to sabotage tourists’ holidays and keep them out of the way for a few hours. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking at, but I don’t want to be the one to spoil it for you. Here are three pictures. Happy fairy hunting!
I could easily have spent the entire week in Skye, but my travel bones were shaking to get a move on. There was no part of the drive around Scotland that wasn’t stunning. Aqueducts, landscapes, moutainsides…I was pleased I didn’t have to do any driving as I had my camera peeking out of the passenger window for the entire trip.
One of the only things I felt I missed out on was a visit to Talisker. This is Skye’s only whiskey distillery and every supermarket, restaurant and bar will be serving a wee dram of the dark stuff. But my whiskey adventures took me back to the mainland as I had decided to go for the FREE whiskey tour at Glenlivet Distillery in Speyside, home of the single malt. Even after an hour of being schooled in the intricacies of taste, the ‘Angel’s Share’ which happens during evaporation and exploring the old smuggler’s route, I still couldn’t bear taking a sip. I suppose my palette is not refined enough. I quickly lost interest in the whiskey trail and immersed myself in the wonderful landscape of the Cairngorms National Park.
The long road back to Inverness took us past the Loch Ness but a thick fog covered the views and acted as a symbolic ‘closing of the curtains’ on an unforgetable experience. I can’t imagine what next year’s birthday road trip will have in store.